Dye, Baby, Dye

If you still haven’t thrown out the last of your Halloween candy, I’m going to give you one more incentive – added food dyes.

Americans are now consuming a whopping five times as much food dye as we did in the 1950s.  This isn’t a huge surprise, when you consider all the unnaturally colored foods out there.  Hint: Ice cream shouldn’t be blue, people!  Colorants from natural sources such as turmeric are available, but many companies opt for synthetic dyes to keep their costs low and because the fake stuff makes the food look brighter.

They may make foods look bright and cheery, but food dyes have some very dangerous side effects, especially for children.  They appear in ingredient lists as a name of a color with a number following it, such as Green 3, Citrus Red 2 and Blue 1.   The three most widely used dyes are Yellow 5, Yellow 6 and Red 40, and they contain chemicals such as benzidine and 4-aminobiphenyl that have been linked to cancer.

Sports drink companies are some of the major food dye culprits. Not to mention these drinks are full of refined sugar and high fructose corn syrup!

The eight most commonly used synthetic dyes in the U.S. have been tested on animals.  Check out a few of the findings:

  • Red 3 was acknowledged by the FDA to be a carcinogen in 1985 and was banned in cosmetics and externally applied drugs.  However Red 3 is still used in ingested drugs and foods.
  • Red 40, Yellow 5, Yellow 6, which account for 90% of dyes in the U.S., are contaminated with low levels of chemical carcinogens, as byproducts of the manufacturing process.  Although the FDA places limits on the concentrations of these contaminants in the final dye products, they still may pose risks.
  • Citrus Red 2 resulted in bladder tumors.
  • Red 3 resulted in thyroid tumors and caused DNA damage.

Research studies also link dyes to allergies, hyperactivity, aggressive tendencies and irritability in children.  A British study conducted in 2007 revealed that kids who ate a combination of common synthetic dyes exhibited hyperactive behavior within one hour!  In fact, these results are what prompted the country’s Food Standards Agency to encourage manufacturers to find natural alternatives to synthetic dyes.

To me, the most compelling reason to give up food dyes is that they are usually used in foods with a host of other nutritional no-no’s, such as poor-quality fats, high fructose corn syrup, refined sugar and other harmful additives.

A total of 15 million pounds of dyes are added to the U.S. food supply each year.

Unfortunately, even foods that are labeled as USDA Certified Organic can contain synthetic dyes, so you still have to read those labels carefully.  Steer clear of products with labels that say “artificial color” or “color added,” and instead look for foods with natural colorants such as beets, annatto, carotenes and capsanthin (paprika extract).

Here are a couple more helpful articles on this topic:

Food Additives Found to Cause Hyperactivity in Children

How Food Companies Fool Consumers with Food Coloring Ingredients Made from Petrochemicals

Let’s cut these harmful dyes out of our diets once and for all.  We and our kids deserve better!


Filed under Healthy Tips, Rants and Cravings

2 responses to “Dye, Baby, Dye

  1. Marcia

    The amount of dyes in food today is daunting and the damage it does is also staggering. Synthetic food dyes are made from petroleum (as is gasoline). They can trigger many behavior, learning and health problems in sensitive people. Since the typical child today consumes a huge amount of foods that contain them, and the quantity of these additives has increased, the number of children who are affected has grown.

    For more than 30 years, parent volunteers in the Feingold Association have been helping other families to get rid of the petrochemicals and see if this will help their child’s symptoms. In nearly all of the cases it does help; sometimes the results are dramatic, with a child going from special ed classes to gifted. Food additives like the dyes certainly are not the only trigger for ADHD symptoms, but they’re a big one, and are very easy to eliminate. The Feingold Association shows families how to find the foods they enjoy in versions that have natural colorings, natural flavorings, etc.

    Your readers can find lots of information and helpful suggestions at http://www.feingold.org.

  2. When I think about all of the unnaturally colored foods I inhaled as a youth, it is amazing I’m still standing. Great post – had no idea the number had increased that much. The only colors I’m trying to eat now all occur in nature. 🙂

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